Monday, May 20, 2013

10th Annual Teaching & Learning Conference at Elon

On August 15, Elon University will host its 10th annual (free) Teaching and Learning Conference, drawing faculty and staff from regional colleges and universities and celebrating the beginning of a new academic year.  Please visit the conference website at for more information and to register for this free, one-day conference.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Unintended, Unanticipated Consequences of the Online Surge

First, my apologies for the tardiness of this entry. I just had the privilege of a computer upgrade, and for some reason my document didn’t get assimilated properly by the Google Blog Borg. As a bonus (or as punishment), I'll be posting multiple entries over the next week or two.


UNC System-Wide Developments

What I’m calling the online surge describes the more aggressive push that the UNC system and UNCG in particular have made to develop and offer online courses. “Online” here refers to fully computer-mediated courses, although some of the same points discussed below might apply to blended (online/on-ground combination) courses as well. Aside from my usual interest in this topic as a researcher and as fellow with the FTLC, I now have an administrative interest. UNC President Tom Ross recently appointed me to the statewide Faculty E-Learning Committee.(Some call it a Task Force, which complements nicely the "Surge" metaphor.) This work group consists of faculty from across the UNC system who, in coordination with the UNC General Administration, are charged with developing plans to assure that (a) faculty are properly prepared to teach online, and (b) online courses meet basic quality expectations. The good news is that UNC is many years behind the curve in this area. "Good news" isn't ironic--there are some advantages to being a late adopter. Many nationally normed and validated online course and instructor quality measures already exist. These systems incorporate elements such as peer review and training certifications that have been thoroughly road tested at all sorts of universities. Two of the most widely used resources for quality assurance are those offered by Quality Matters and by the Sloan Consortium. I'll be posting regular updates on our progress. Please contact me if you have ideas or suggestions for the UNC Faculty E-Learning Committee/Work Group/Task Force/Gang.


Aftermath of the Urge to Surge Online

Fast forward a bit. Imagine UNCG has overcome its infrastructural limitations. Imagine that massive numbers of students have migrated online. If you're having trouble imagining such things, this should put you in the mood. OK, now what? Consider some potential consequences...

1. Internal competition

Many traditional universities find that online students don't differ very much from their ordinary, traditional students. Why? Because most of them are the same people. Given the prevalence of online courses and degree programs, it's highly unlikely that UNCG--especially at this rather late stage in cybereducation--will find the online market as a way to capture substantial numbers of additional students. Aside from our online degree programs, UNCG has never gathered any data about who takes online courses. But if the experience of universities with more mature and extensive online course offerings is any indicator, additional online courses--especially those not part of a fully online degree program--will draw enrollments mostly from already matriculated students who want more flexibility in scheduling. As a result, online courses and traditional courses will be competing mostly for the same students. The more successfully online courses are promoted, the more we may need to face the reality of sagging traditional course enrollments as those students shift to cyberspace. This may be harmful or beneficial, but it has major implications concerning many facets of university culture, such as:

  • the need for faculty, especially new hires, to know how to teach online effectively
  • the desire by faculty to teach more online courses and fewer face-to-face courses
  • the skew in demographics of instruction, as younger, tech-savvy instructors concentrate online while older, less tech-savvy one concentrate in traditional classes. (This also may mean a concentration of non-tenure track instructors online, which raises another set of issues regarding how such instruction differs from competitors in the community/technical college market.)
  • the possible demographic concentration of working, older students online while traditional classrooms become less diverse in age and life experiences.

2. Spatial migration

More aggressive online offerings means fewer students in traditional classrooms. This move has advantages. It frees instructional space for more uses that can accommodate more students. It enables classroom space to be repurposed in ways that use such real estate more efficiently. But it also should raise some concerns.
The more students migrate online, the less they need to be physically present on or around campus. A massive movement of students online carries a tradeoff: fewer students using campus facilities (such as profit-generating restaurants and stores), as well as fewer students patronizing those expensive and already often underutilized stationary computer labs. We might consider with some trepidation the implications for the new multi-million dollar investment in new on-campus or nearby housing such as Spartan Village. The less a student needs to be around campus, the less demand there may be for housing whose prime attraction was its geographic positioning near (physical) classes. And why bother paying for parking (another source of university funds) when there is less need to commute to campus?
These concerns require some forethought, and they raise serious reservations about massive investments in immobile computing labs furnished with hardware that becomes outdated as soon as it is installed. Hopefully the designers, planners, and policymakers are taking a serious look at how to design living spaces in ways that maximally accommodate the mobile learner. The great news here is that equipping flexible learning spaces with the tools for optimizing use of tablets, laptops, and smart phones almost certainly will be much cheaper than maintaining and staffing empty rooms with moribund hardware and software. Or how about a traveling tech team that can periodically rotate among various residence halls and learning communities giving workshops on solutions to tech problems? How about a tech equivalent of an RA in each residence hall who serves as the local tech guru in helping students use learning management systems such as Blackboard? Almost any student would pay a premium for housing with that kind of perk.

Neither of the consequences I've described should be shockingly novel, and that's a good thing. As long as we think past the immediate impulse to maximize online course enrollments, we should be able to anticipate the effects this move will have. If we plan properly and, most important, follow through with tangible actions that operationalize our commitments, we can raise the "Mission Accomplished" banner without reservations or regrets.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Google Glass in Class?

 One of the biggest electronic product launches of 2013 is Google Glass. If you haven’t heard of this product before, you should check out the website and promotional video below:

 Essentially Glass is a wearable computer that is used in place of or in conjunction with ordinary glasses. Glass responds to voice commands, has internet connectivity for live video/audio conferencing, and a camera for capturing photos or videos. There are many wonderful uses for this product such as recording events as a participant (rather than holding a camera). Law enforcement utilizing Glass can protect both officers and those they interact with by providing a first person account of any exchanges. 

 As with any technology there will be negative uses as well as positive ones. Just imagine what you would have done with this product as a 14 year old for example. Beyond the juvenile and the nefarious acts, there is also the continued elimination of having a private moment when others are within sight. Anywhere we are viewable someone may be recording our activities. “So what,” say a lot of people including many Supreme Court Justices who have ruled that anytime we are in public we have no “expectation of privacy” such that warrantless recording has been allowed. This is an odd argument for those concerned with the founding fathers intentions as a matter of constitutional interpretation. What would be the 1790 equivalent of having cameras monitoring public intersections recording who is walking and what license plates go by? It would probably have been a government agent in a tree with a parchment jotting down who rode into town and when. Does this sound like something the founding fathers would have approved of? I leave it as an exercise for the reader to contemplate.

 What will the arrival of Google Glass, competing products, and their smaller less conspicuous next
iterations mean for the university? Again, it helps to imagine your dorm experience where suddenly everyone always had a camera that could be recording things for public posting later. A whole new set of problems and complaints will arise. One might ask: What about cell phones they have cameras? True, they do, but in most cases it is obvious when someone is recording you (they have to point it at you and usually hold it). With glass we can never be certain if it is on or not. These worries have already led some businesses to ban such devices. We will hear a great deal more about these issues over the next few years.

 One area of specific concern for me is the classroom. I have already imposed a “no recording” policy in my classes. This step was taken because a lot of what is covered in philosophy and ethics courses is controversial such that in playing devil’s advocate I often make cases for things that I wouldn’t want selectively edited and posted for public ridicule. Just imagine if your worst moments of teaching (the joke that went wrong, the Freudian slip, when you misunderstood what someone asked you, or just had a bad day) were permanently posted to the internet (edited and framed by your most disgruntled student). Such videos are already on display via YouTube, for example, and thus I have disallowed recordings in my class. How does one hope to enforce the policy in a large class where students’ glasses are the recording device?

 In most circumstances the answer to such concerns is to have your own recording device to counter any misrepresented clips posted by someone else. Given FERPA regulations however, this may not be an option. Can faculty record their classes from a first person perspective, which shows all students present when the faculty look at them? Something tells me the answer will be “no”, at which point a difference is made between Google Glass in class and everywhere else. If both the police and the perpetrator have Google Glass this seems ideal for a court and jury. What if only the students have their record to show? I think I want my Google Glass but not allowed in my class.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

APPril Fools' Day App Fair: Useful Apps to Share

APPril Fools’ Day App Fair Payoffs

The following apps were discussed or showcased at the APPril Fools’ App Fair, sponsored by the Technological Tools for Teaching Learning Community (T3LC). The focus wound up being on Apple apps, but most of these are available on the Android platform, and we even covered a few PC programs. Here are the apps, some of which are grouped by functionality.

Research and information access

  • Browzine
The library has subscribed to a new technology called BrowZine. This is a free iPad application that allows you to browse, read and monitor some of outstanding journals in your discipline that are accessible through our library. New issues of your favorite titles are automatically displayed on your bookshelf for you to view. Items found in Browzine can easily be synced up with Zotero, Dropbox or several other services to help keep all of your information together in one place.

To learn more, please take a look at this short two minute video:
Steps to download Browzine
1. Go to the iTunes app store and search for Browzine
2. Install on your Ipad
3. Choose UNC Greensboro from the School drop down menu
4. Log in with your UNCG credentials

Microsoft Office-type apps

  • Pages
    Native word processing app for iPad. Cost = ~$10
  • Keynote
    Native presentation software for iPad. Much slicker appearance than PowerPoint. Cost = ~$10.
  • Evernote
    The tablet version of MS OneNote enables creation of documents that can incorporate text, audio, video, and still images. Sophisticated search ability and filing systems. Many tech sites say this app is a “must have” essential tool for any tablet.

 Instant polling (“clicker” style feedback from students or colleagues)

  • GoSoapbox
    Go to: This is a web-based program, but students can input their feedback via smart devices. Try it using the access code 403-011-389. There is 30 day free trial and the $10/year fee for instructors.
  • Socritique
    Polling using Twitter.

Visual translator

 PDF document annotation

  • PDF Expert
    Top-rated PDF annotation app. Very intuitive interface. Cost = ~$10.
  • iAnnotate
    Another widely used, highly rated PDF annotation app. Slightly more complex than PDF Expert, but a lot depends on your own preferences. Cost = ~$10.
            Program web site:
Cost = $69.95. Check web site regularly for sales; discounts are available for educators and students.


  • Mailbox for iPhone
    This app is so popular there is a months-long waiting list before you can actually get it. Makes your iPhone email far more functional, including efficient filing and cleanup.

Content curation tools

There are many options to organize multimedia materials for teaching or to use as a platform for students to design assignments. All of these tools enable aggregation and organization of web pages and other materials not easily captured via traditional word processing or presentation software. Most also integrate with social media or have their own social media interfaces. Caution: The tablet apps of these tools, when available, may not offer the same functionality as the web-based versions. Test the tools for the functions you need.

  • ScoopIt
  • Pinterest
  • Learnist
  • Pulse
  • Feedly
    Many have found this an effective replacement for Google Reader [R.I.P.].

  • Storify
  • Diigo
    Enables sharing annotations of items as well as the items themselves.
  • NetVibes
    This popular replacement for the late Google Reader enables feed subscription management and has many functional widgets. 
  • Flipboard
    Create a personal magazine-style content manager linking all your Facebook, Twitter, other social media accounts, as well as any blogs or RSS feeds you follow.

Visual tools

  • MultiLens
    Allows multiple photos to be combined like puzzle pieces into a single image. Interesting possibilities for showing related images so students can examine them and develop better visual literacy. Also useful to store photos of student groups, service-learning sites, etc.

Class management

  • Attendance
    Efficient way to manage attendance records, but it can also randomly group students, email students with attendance updates, and a several other things from your iWhatever.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Welcome to Your Online Course...Now What?

We tend to think of student support services in rather concrete terms: as an office, a gathering place, and as helpful people that can offer students personal attention. We have several of these support services on campus. Let's focus on three that are associated with basic skills, but also can play a vital role in keeping students enrolled and helping them succeed. The Writing Center and the Speaking Center have fairly familiar functions. They assist in developing written and oral communication skills. Their newest partner is the Digital Center, or as it is known here, the Digital ACT (action, collaboration, and training) Studio. These three support services act synergistically, collectively comprising what many researchers and pedagogues call multiliteracies. Rarely do students prepare assignments in only an oral or a written mode, and digital modalities can offer visual and multimedia communication opportunities that transcend the conventional "paper" or "speech." The roles of a digital center/studio can occupy another blog entry (or several articles), but I'd like to confront a question we haven't asked ourselves at UNCG, at least not systematically as an institution.

What about our online students?

Even if most online students are already on campus (Almost every traditional university finds that to be the case. My interview with the Instructional Technology administrators at Northwest Missouri State University earlier this month found that on average 75% of online enrollment consists of students already on campus.), they may find the physical separation from their peers and instructors also attenuates their connection to student support services. I wondered whether the migration of students online might place them at greater risk for failure. Here failure is defined as not completing the course (or, worse than dropping, simply fading away and earning a failing grade after becoming non-responsive), performing poorly enough to earn a failing grade (or one that will not fulfill curricular requirements, such as a minimum grade to count toward a major, etc.), or simply dropping out of the institution entirely.

Online and at risk

It turns out that emerging research suggests the online environment may be associated with problems in persistence and retention. We're talking about regular curricular offerings here, not the massively open online courses (MOOCs) that have attracted a lot of attention and raised a lot of alarm lately. Now, I'm no technological determinist. In fact, I've argued that most negative qualities of online courses result more from flawed course designs and poor pedagogy than from anything inherent to the online medium per se. The association between negative outcomes and online courses is necessarily complex, and it is impossible to isolate all the relevant variables and introduce appropriate controls. Still, the fact that these performance disparities occur at various kinds of institutions and across a variety of courses should cause concern. Minimally, it means that calls both to move more educational delivery online and to improve graduation/retention rates may work at cross purposes. That is, unless we invigorate the online milieu with student support services as robust as those regularly infused into traditional courses.

What to do?

Student support services, particularly multiliteracy support, can become an active part of online courses. I'm not talking about a link that sits on the Blackboard or course homepage. Instructors could include a guest video presentation and interactive session (e.g., text or video chat) with staff from the multiliteracy support services. This infusion of student support networks directly into courses  could take the form of an online version of an orientation to the services. But we know how that's usually received.
Standard student reaction to support service orientation sessions
Instead, how about patching in multiliteracy support timed to coincide when instructions are posted and discussions related to the first major assignment occur? Students often disregard the traditional orientation, and for good reason: they don't need those services, at least not yet.Instructors and multiliteracy services staff could practice the principle of just-in-time learning, offering support services precisely when students first recognize their desire for assistance. (I've discussed this tactic here.)

As I've stated elsewhere, infusing this kind of support into online courses connects just-in-time learning with most-in-need students. The university takes the initiative of linking students with resources that could improve their performance and thereby increase their satisfaction with their education.

How can such productive collaborations happen? We must embrace by actually doing, not just discussing, the following kinds of measures:
  1. Instructors and multiliteracy support staff need to schedule direct interactions with students coinciding with major assignments. For students to feel connected with the university, this support needs to be ongoing, not episodic.
  2. Faculty and multiliteracy center staff need to collaborate closely in deciding how the center's presence will be felt in the online course. A mixture of different approaches (especially synchronous and asynchronous) will adapt to different schedules, equipment capabilities, and learning styles.
  3. Students must be provided with a rationale for engaging with the university's support services. Simply commanding, "Get feedback on your video project from the Digital Studio" offers the student nothing more than an onerous order. Help students develop goals they want to accomplish via their consultations with multiliteracy centers.
  4. The multiliteracy facilities need to develop and be ready to deploy plans for:
  • A. Appropriate technological means for "visiting" online courses;
  • B. Using these visitations as a gateway for making appointments for  personal consultations;
  • C. Following up class visitations with personal consultations conducted online or at a distance. These online consultations can be decidedly low-tech, even retro. How about that rarely used but highly personal interaction known as a phone call? Wide availability of "long distance" dialing no extra cost makes phone access inexpensive, and it establishes a far more personal connection than almost any interface available within a standard learning management system. Indeed, a simple call can induce public rapture.
There's good news: None of the previous actions are unfamiliar to skilled instructors and capable student support staff. It just requires a bit of adaptive thinking to transfer high quality practices to online students. These students may be less visible, but they also may be more in need of assistance they weren't aware they could get, especially online.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

I want my... Apple TV!

One cannot attend a meeting these days without seeing someone with an iPad. Despite the investment in and use of iPads on campus, their best feature for classroom use remains unrealized at UNCG. To get full use of the iPad in the classroom it needs to be paired with an Apple TV.

What is an Apple TV? It is a small black box (about the size of a hockey puck) which streams content to a TV or projector from your wireless Apple device. The killer feature is “mirroring” which allows any Apple device (Macs, iPads, or iPhones) to wirelessly project their screen through the Apple TV onto the TV or projector it connects to.

What does this accomplish? It completely unchains the teacher from the teaching station during class. For example, I use the iPad mini (which is easy to hold in one hand) and could roam the classroom while projecting my slides, documents, webpages, or videos to the screen. No more having to stand at the teaching station or return to it when switching from PowerPoint to something else. The clip below shows how easy the mini is to carry.
In addition, instructors can even allow (or not) students with Apple devices to project their screen wirelessly to the projector (great for reporting group work to the class). This video provides a short demonstration:
What does this cost? Each Apple TV is $99 and requires an HDMI cable and HDMI compatible projector to be fully featured (without HDMI projectors you cannot project videos through the device). Still, the technology costs are minimal. The real cost requires changes at the University—more on that in a moment. What is needed is a few classrooms of various sizes set up with Apple TV’s for those instructors who wish to use them. Many K-12 classrooms are being set up this way and thus our incoming students will be familiar with the setup. Universities are behind K-12 in this instance.

Why aren’t we doing this already? First, most faculty aren’t aware that this can be done. Second, those who have tried have faced University roadblocks. The best example is found here: where one of our own covers the barriers to adoption.

I’ve tested the Apple TV mirroring at home with my Mac laptop and iPad to great effect. Visitors have used their iPhones to show videos and such right on my home TV without any problem. The technology works, is affordable, and has significant educational uses. Faculty and students are already heavily geared with Apple products. So the message should be heard clear at UNCG that we want our Apple TV!

Friday, March 15, 2013

UNCG Faculty Snapshot

Did you know 23 UNCG faculty members entered college the same year Neil Armstrong walked on the moon (1969)? Or that 19 faculty started their college freshman semester the same year South Park debuted (1997)?

FTLC Executive Director Patrick Lee Lucas (IAR) talked about this graphic and accompanying demographic information with the Board of Trustees at a presentation on Wed. March 6.  Read our blog post to get copies of the handouts and see what you have in common with other teachers on campus.